I love Smart Writers.
Now, when I say “Smart Writers” I don’t mean stuffy academic writers (although let’s tell it like it is, I like reading them too). When I say “Smart Writers” I mean authors who write books that express new and thought-provoking ideas with beautiful, playful, intelligent language. When I say “Smart Writers” I mean writers that I want to pluck off the page and bring home for coffee and conversation. I’m talking about writers who inspire and challenge me, and who make me laugh.
Right now I’m reading Simon Pegg’s autobiography Nerd Do Well; and I tell you, that man is a Smart Writer.
You may know Simon Pegg from such films as the new Star Trek (he plays Scotty), Shaun of the Dead (Shaun), and Mission Impossible (Benji Dunn), among others. He’s a great actor, I love his stuff, but I didn’t truly appreciate just how cool he was until I started reading Nerd Do Well. First of all, I can’t stop laughing. I laugh out loud at least once per page. The man has mad wit!
Secondly… Well, I think for this one I’m going to have to let his writing speak for itself. Here’s something I just read last night in a chapter entitled “That’s No Moon, It’s an Understatement”:
“If you didn’t already know, or haven’t guessed from my rambling, I studied film for a while. I relished being able to pick apart my favourite films as a student; it was amusing and fascinating all at the same time. Easily dismissed but powerfully persuasive when argued well, film theory seems from the outside like an awful lot of brainpower for something so inconsequential. During my studies I wrote a thesis entitled ‘Base and Supersucker: A Marxist Overview of Consent in Star Wars and Related Works’. In the most basic terms it was about how when we experience art without critical awareness we consent to the ideas being promoted, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the filmmaker.”
<Swoon!> A Marxist Overview of Consent in Star Wars?? I love it! And any person who challenges us to think critically about the art we consume is okay by me. More than okay. Also, I’m all for using a lot of brainpower for things that seem inconsequential.
I’ve used this chapter (almost halfway through the book) as an example, but the truth is that I was hooked and impressed long before I got to this. In fact, I was hooked by the time I got halfway through his North American Foreword. I think it’s because his wit is so deft that I was never quite sure if he was praising or making fun of Americans. He criticizes the shortcomings of Great Britain, but dammit, he does it with pride! So when he throws out some praise to North America, it makes the reader a little suspicious. He keeps you on your toes for sure.
Most of all, however, I love the way Simon Pegg writes with passion for his ideas, playfully about himself, and with a seeming joy in language itself.
Another Smart Writer I’ve been reading recently is Julian Barnes. I started with The Sense of An Ending, the praises of which I heard shouted from reviews and blogs everywhere. The reviews were not wrong. I loved the book so much I read the entire thing in one afternoon. Now I’m reading Talking It Over, and after that I have Arthur & George to sink my teeth into.
Barnes has the ability to get into the head of each unique character in his novels. Every word of every character’s dialogue or inner monologue is a perfect expression of that character’s own personal agony. This isn’t to imply that all of his characters are in agony. As humans we each tend to see ourselves at the center of our own universe, and as the “center of the universe” we agonize over the things we say and do; even when those things are done in joy or pleasure. Julian Barnes’ characters are a subtle expression of that exquisite agony.
And let us not forget Rainbow Rowell, author of Attachments, and the more recently published Eleanor & Park. Rowell writes about the everyman–the I.T. guy at the office, the headphone-wearing nerd on the bus, the snarky woman who works in marketing–but she gives these characters the delicious depth they deserve, the depth we all have, even if you’re a nerdy headphone wearing everyman. What’s further, she writes with a sensuality that will take your breath away. Reading a scene in Eleanor & Park in which the two main characters hold hands made me feel as if I had electricity running through my veins!
These are not the only Smart Writers, obviously; these are simply the ones I’m reading right now, who are making me fall in love with intelligent prose all over again. A few other Smart Writers I’m always pushing on people are:
- A.S. Byatt
- Anne Patchett
- Dave Eggars
But I’m always looking for more! So if you have a favorite Smart Writer in your library that you’d like to recommend, please do. My TBR list is already too long to ever finish in my lifetime, but who cares. I plan to live forever.